JFF #013: Investigative journalism under Covid-19, and reinventing conferences

[Cross-posted from the Journalism Funders Forum website, where you can sign up for this newsletter. Twitter version here.]

Journalism funding in Europe and beyond

Even if you’re inclined to think positively about the long-term future of journalism post-COVID, there’s no denying the human and societal cost of the cataclysm facing journalism organisations and jobs around the world. Beyond the headlines about Buzzfeed UK/Australia, Quartz, and even the Emerson Collective-owned Atlantic, there have been thousands upon thousands of furloughs, layoffs, redeployments, cancelled contracts and even closures, literally everywhere.

However, as we wrote in our previous editions, donors have been responding to this challenging situation with a number of emergency funds – and the first  funding decisions from these funds are starting to filter through:

Additionally, new COVID-related funds continue to appear:

  • Internews’ fund for its partners around the world, to which Luminate has contributed $0.5m USD, has reopened for applications (deadline 28 May).
  • The Public Interest News Foundation has announced a small emergency grants programme (£60,000) for the UK, funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

Other funds are also available:

Let us know of other funding opportunities you think we should share.

Investigative journalism in Europe

The pandemic and its ripple effects are going to be with all societies for years to come. How those with power act at this time is going to be crucial to investigate, document and scrutinise, be they governments, health authorities, pharmaceutical companies, security services, tech companies, employers, or organised crime. As hundreds of billions of euros, dollars and pounds are poured into mitigating the effects of the crisis, rebuilding economies and sectors in their wake, the risk of mismanagement and corruption is real and large.

Investigative Journalism (IJ) is on the frontline of covering aspects of the COVID-19 crisis, and the work of investigative journalists and others, such as freedom of information specialists working to ensure transparency and accountability, is crucial for the recovery.

Your best jumping-off point into the world of IJ is GIJN, which is also helping its members with resources and webinars in multiple languages on how to investigate COVID-19-related stories, and keeping healthy while reporting. 

While they and others like ICIJ are tracking how journalists are covering the crisis around the world (like this Latin America-wide collaboration among 14 Latin American IJ centres), we wanted to refresh your memory on the scope and scale of investigative journalism going on in Europe and its funders – small in number perhaps, but carrying enormous weight.

For a general background on the field, and how funders interact with it, take a look at the 2019 Deutsche Welle Akademie report How to Fund Investigative Journalism. However, it’s also worth recapping on some of the main actors in the European independent IJ field (aside from GIJN and ICIJ), all of whom are engaged to a greater or lesser extent in responding to the coronavirus:

This is of course alongside the investigative journalists based inside existing major media institutions, or at the local level – TV, radio, online and print, private commercial media, cooperatives (including Apache in Belgium, Ferret in Scotland), and public service media. Furthermore, there’s a rising trend both of civil society groups doing IJ themselves (e.g. Global Witness) and setting up independent editorial units (Greenpeace/Unearthed, Liberty/Liberty Investigates). 

Some funders are well-known – Open Society Foundations, Luminate, Adessium, Fritt Ord, Rudolf Augstein Stiftung, Schöpflin Stiftung, and Erste Stiftung – but the pool of funders is growing slowly as more donors come on board both through their own programmes and through collaboration in structures like Civitates (which saw its first Italian member foundation, Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo, join this year). IJ is also mentioned as a strand within the IFPIM – the proposed International Fund for Public Interest Media.

Cancel → Postpone → Replicate → Reinvent

Many – us included – mourned publicly when the Perugia International Journalism Festival was cancelled – but by now, we’ve adapted to the reality that no conferences are being held in person anywhere. 

While some events cancelled their 2020 editions outright (this week’s Lviv Media Forum, and DW’s Global Media Forum, among many others), others have – perhaps optimistically – postponed to later in the year (Les Assises du Journalisme, for instance). And many, including democracy/transparency conference Personal Democracy Forum CEE and the conference of academic network International Communication Association, have been delivered entirely online. And that’s without factoring in the world of live journalism productions and events, which was just beginning to really take off.

The exponential increase in webinars, lectures, lessons, and myriad other content, as every sector goes digital at the same time, is leading to widespread ‘Zoom fatigue’. So to stand out, and to be considered worth the time, organisers need to build their events by taking into account the new conditions under which everyone is now working.

In early April, Polish independent journalism group Outriders held an online festival, reinvented for the lockdown-era. Here’s how they did it from floating the idea on Facebook, to making sure they didn’t compete with attendees’ Netflix time, to what they’d do differently next time. The Center for Cooperative Media offers similarly practical advice after their recent online event. (Looking further ahead, many have been cheering the Online News Association for the attendee-centric approach it is proposing for its annual conference.)

European IJ conferences have gone through similar challenges. GRÄV in Sweden and Tutki in Finland have been postponed, SKUP in Norway is cancelled, MezhyhiryaFest in Ukraine is conspicuously silent, and the UK’s CIJ Summer Conference is going fully digital.

The European Investigative Journalism Conference/DataHarvest is a major meeting point for the European IJ sector every spring in Mechelen. Arena, the organisers, had already been working to tie the conference community together in a productive way both at the event itself, and afterwards. So last year’s edition had a focus on housing, continuing into a post-event email list with now over 130 members, and leading to an international collaboration that has already shown its value during the coronavirus crisis with collaborations on homelessness and evictions. This year’s postponed edition will focus on climate and energy, which many funders will want to keep an eye on, alongside a strand highlighting the crucial role of freedom of information

Who else is leaning into the transition well? Let us know.

What we are reading

Until next time, stay safe. 

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